How will a psychotherapist know the answers for me and my life?
A psychotherapist is very unlikely to have ‘the answers’ for you. In my view, a good therapist will be a warm and trustworthy companion who is willing and able to help you best ask the questions you need to ask. She or he will be the kind of person with whom you can feel safe to both ask those questions of yourself and, together, explore some of the possible answers. At the risk of sounding grandiose, I believe it is – or at least can be – sacred work that the client and therapist embark upon. Neither know exactly what may unfold. For me, if I were a client looking at commencing a new relationship with a therapist, I would want to know that I could feel safe with and trust the individual above all else. Second to that most important question, I would want to get a sense that the therapist would be strong and independent enough to also challenge me – at the right time and in the right way for me. I rarely get answers to both these questions immediately, but after several sessions I get a much better idea and choose to either continue with the therapist or seek another. I would encourage any client moving on to also be respectful enough to themselves and to the therapist they are leaving to be upfront and as honest as they can comfortably be about it. It’s hard to think of anything more personal than therapy – for that reason, a client should feel completely comfortable to ‘shop around’ for that right ‘fit’.
Many people use the terms counselling and psychotherapy interchangeably. I prefer to use the word counselling for when a client comes into therapy with a specific problem in mind and intends the work to end when that issue has been dealt with (for example, grief counselling). By contrast, I see psychotherapy as the more general and often longer-term work a client may choose to do on ‘themselves’. Psychotherapy is about working on and potentially changing a person’s entire personality and approach to life. Rather than a neat and self-contained problem, what brings a client into psychotherapy might be broader issues, such as:
Why am I the way that I am? Why do I keep doing things I ultimately don't want to be doing? Who am I really? Who might I be if I weren't trying to win approval from others or meet their expectations? What would it be like to be able to breathe deeply and know who I am, and be at peace with that - perhaps even joyful? Where is my life going? Have I inherited a weight of values and ideas that get in the way of me even knowing what I think and feel about things?
It probably makes sense that questions like these are about venturing inwards towards authenticity, and therefore their exploration is likely to lead to more questions rather than quick answers. On that basis, psychotherapy is defined less by a particular, single problem and more by an overall goal of coming to terms with one’s own life and the meanings it may hold. It works towards building the platform for a nurturing, truthful and courageous relationship with one’s self and with others.
I sometimes think counselling is a little bit like getting physiotherapy for an injury, while psychotherapy is more like going to a personal trainer for the mind and soul.
Psychotherapist and Counsellor